After the cold open for this week’s episode of NXT showed the War Raiders hyping the four remaining teams in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic and putting themselves over as the team which the eventual winners will have to face, we continued with the tournament by welcoming Moustache Mountain and The Forgotten Sons to the ring.
Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Semi-Final Match
Moustache Mountain vs. The Forgotten Sons (Steve Cutler & Wesley Blake) w/ Jaxson Ryker
This was an interesting clash of styles with the old-school British technical style of Moustache Mountain going up against the American heavyweight brawling style of the Forgotten Sons. I thought the main thing this match showed was how much Tyler Bate has outgrown his longtime tag team partner in recent years and really deserves a singles push, whether that be on the American or British version of NXT. Steve Cutler and Wesley Blake did a great job of going after Trent Seven’s injured knee, but I thought Seven’s squeals of agony seemed a little over the top. Bate took the hot tag and really ramped up the action, at one point performing a double airplane spin on both Cutler and Blake. The finish came when Cutler pushed Bate off the turnbuckle to the outside where he got flattened by Jaxson Ryker. This caused an irate Seven to try a dive to the outside, only to be hit with a big knee from Cutler. Bate was then rolled back into the ring and the Sons nailed an assisted inverted DDT for the win and to progress to the final of the tournament. This was a good match, but it had nothing on the second semi-final and main event for the evening.
We then cut to Matt Riddle being interviewed backstage about his reasons for interrupting Velveteen Dream last week. He was interrupted himself by Adam Cole, apparently to tease a match between the two for the right to face Dream at TakeOver: New York. Both that match and the resultant title match should be two more clinics of the like that NXT has come to specialise in.
NXT Women’s Championship #1 Contender’s Match
Io Shirai vs. Bianca Belair
This was a great match which did a good job of displaying the heat which has been building between these two, but which ended on a non-finish. Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler joined the commentary team and constantly ran down both competitors when being asked who she’d rather face. She’d beaten Bianca Belair once already and, in her eyes, Io Shirai is “a nobody from Japan”. The commentary team continued to question her and eventually she had enough, throwing her headset down and marching into the ring to attack both Belair and Shirai. Kairi Sane attempted to make the save but got choked out by Baszler as well. Shayna was later informed that she would have to face all three of those women in a Fatal Four Way match at TakeOver, so despite how strong she looks every week, she will now face long odds of retaining her championship. The TakeOver card is shaping up to be a doozy.
Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Semi-Final Match
Ricochet & Aleister Black vs. #DIY
This was an amazing match which proved to be the final swansong for the former NXT Tag Team Champions #DIY, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa. It was way back at the first TakeOver: Chicago event in May 2017 that Ciampa betrayed Gargano after they had lost a Ladder match for the NXT Tag Team Championships to the Authors of Pain. In the two years since, they have had numerous match of the year candidates, and have had what has been considered by many around the wrestling world to be the best-booked long-form rivalry in WWE in many years.
The most recent chapter in the story has been about Ciampa manipulating Gargano to get him back onside so that he doesn’t have to defend his NXT Championship against him. They debuted on Raw and SmackDown as a tag team, and they entered the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic as a combo. It was here, though, in rather dramatic fashion, that Ciampa’s mind games came to an end. #DIY had both of their opponents in submission holds: Gargano had Aleister Black locked in the Gargano Escape and Ciampa had Ricochet in a double Fujiwara Armbar. Ricochet managed to power out of the hold and hit a Death Valley Driver to Ciampa onto Gargano’s knee, breaking the Escape as well. Gargano’s knee appeared to be injured from the blow, and he had to retreat to the outside of the ring. Ciampa checked on him, and Gargano assured him his knee was hurt and that he couldn’t wrestle. Ciampa went it alone, and eventually succumbed to a Black Mass from the Dutch Destroyer, swiftly followed by a 630 Senton from the One And Only.
A concerned-looking Candice LeRae then hurried out to the ring, and she and Ciampa tried to help Johnny to the back. As they approached the stage, Gargano slipped and had to be helped up again. The look on Ciampa’s face at this point turned to rage, disgusted by the weakness his quasi-partner was showing, and he tried to recreate the TakeOver: Chicago turn, where he slammed Gargano’s face into the stage LED boards. Gargano knew it was coming though, and stood his ground, only to slam Ciampa into the boards himself, and hit a superkick on the champion! The injury was a ruse! Gargano had outsmarted his manipulator!
This was genuinely one of the most satisfying babyface moments I have seen in wrestling in a long time. Finally standing tall over his longtime enemy, and basking in “JOHNNY WRESTLING” chants from the crowd, Gargano exclaimed: “JOHNNY WRESTLING’S BACK!” as the show went off the air. He had beaten Ciampa at his own game, and at TakeOver: New York, he might just win the NXT Championship for the first time in his career.
Overall, this episode of NXT set up some meaningful matches, but it certainly saved its best moments till last. Ricochet and Aleister Black and The Forgotten Sons will contest the final of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic with a shot at the War Raiders and the NXT Tag Team Championships on the line. Shayna Baszler will face Bianca Belair, Io Shirai and Kairi Sane at TakeOver: New York. And Johnny Gargano got the better of his nemesis, Tommaso Ciampa.